Thursday, February 05, 2009

Job Growth in the Nuclear Energy Industry

We are going through one of the most turbulent economic times this country has seen in decades. There's hardly a week nowadays that we don't hear at least several companies laying off employees. Since December 2007, the number of unemployed persons has grown by 3.6 million. However, the nuclear industry is one of the few industries in this country that is actually expanding during these turbulent times. A lot of the recent job growth in the nuclear energy industry was stimulated by the 2005 Energy Policy Act.

NEI has been keeping close tabs on expansion in the nuclear energy industry. As of the end of 2008, we estimate that private investment in new nuclear power plants has created an estimated 15,000 jobs (pdf, check out pages 4-6 for the list of companies). From page 1:

Over the last several years, the nuclear industry has invested over $4 billion in new nuclear plant development, and plans to invest approximately $8 billion in the next several years to be in a position to start construction in 2011-2012.
We've analyzed the number of workers it takes to run equivalent sized nuclear, coal, gas and wind plants. Below is what we've found. (These are direct jobs and don't include the construction and manufacturing sectors which would boost all the numbers even higher):

(Ventyx, formerly known as Global Energy Decisions, provided the data for coal, gas and nuclear which is based on a huge FERC form that regulated utilities are required to submit once a year. The wind data is calculated from numbers on page 209 in DOE's "20% Wind Energy by 2030" report (pdf).)

Job opportunities in the nuclear energy industry are huge and diverse. The industry employs ten different types of engineers, eleven different types of professionals and twelve different types of technicians and skilled trades workers. If anyone would like more of this information, check out our website.

The Potential for More Growth
Right now, Congress is debating and crafting a "stimulus" package to get the U.S. economy going again. The underlying goal for this stimulus is to create jobs. We can think of no better way to do that than to support the resurgence of nuclear power. Members of the Senate agree.

The Senate Appropriations committee voted (pdf) to include $50 billion in loan volume for the existing loan guarantee program (which includes renewables, advanced coal-based systems, transmission, energy efficiency, advanced nuclear projects and others) as well as $95 billion in loan guarantee authority earmarked solely for commercially proven renewable energy projects and the transmission lines necessary to bring that renewable energy to market. This financial support will help build investor confidence in the prospects for new nuclear power plants and other advanced technologies.

Some observers criticize loan guarantees as a "handout." They are not. If the loan guarantee program works as it should, taxpayers won't pay a cent. In fact the government could turn a profit (information on how loan guarantees work can be found here (pdf)). The loan guarantee ensures equitable sharing of risks since much of the risk derives from a new, untested regulatory process enforced by the government's own nuclear regulator.

Here's some ammo for pro-nuclear bloggers to show that the nuclear energy industry is great for job growth, great for the economy and great for the country, and that the U.S. Congress should include loan guarantees for all advanced energy technologies (like new reactor technology) in its package to stimulate the economy!


djysrv said...

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perdajz said...

Huh? There's been some mistake here.

The superior technology is the one that requires the least number of workers per unit output. That's what makes a technology cheaper, safer and more reliable. We can "create jobs" by banning the use of tractors, and through government fiat, mandating the use of only shovels; that doesn't mean it makes economic sense.

Go back and take another look at this, NEI. The table here implies that a worker in the wind power industry is five times more productive than a worker in the nuclear power industry. That's nonsense.

The Cunctator said...

It doesn't make any sense that the expected cost of loan guarantees would be zero. If it were, there would be no need for loan guarantees.

The historical default rate is about 50%.

I hope we've learned some lessons in the past year how dangerous high-default loans can be. And these are multi-billion-dollar loans.

The Cunctator said...

The jobs numbers make total sense. Once a wind turbine is built, it's practically free energy. Just a little labor for maintenance. Most of the labor is in construction and installation, and since it's a growth industry, that's a lot of jobs.

Problem is, nuclear's the exact opposite in every respect. Most of the money for building plants goes into capital, not labor, and then there are high continuing costs involved in mining and processing the fuel, and running the plants. Furthermore, as a mature industry, the growth curve is completely different.

I wish people would be willing to separate the merits of an industry from whether or not it's a good idea for the government to be pushing taxpayer dollars on it.

Let's have the government spend money developing new nuclear engineers, not subsidizing new plants.

David Bradish said...

perdajz, we took quite some time studying these numbers, we've vetted them, and they are what we've found (unless you have different numbers available). You bring up an excellent point but I think there are other factors to consider.

A nuclear plant produces electricity 90 percent of the time versus wind which produces electricity 30 percent of the time. Nuclear plants are highly reliable, wind turbines aren't.

I'm speculating here but maybe if other technologies wanted to be as reliable as nuclear plants, then the number of jobs to make that happen would grow exponentially not linearly.

As well, there are huge economic benefits for employing the number of people a nuclear plant does. We've been doing economic benefits reports on nuclear plants for years and what is true is that for every direct job they employ, exactly another indirect job is created. This happens due to the spending by the plant as well as the spending by the employees. The communities around the nuclear plants realize this which is why we see public favor-ability higher around the plants.

The Cunctator, the lg program is not free. If it works as designed, the nuclear utilities will be the ones paying for the program through the fees associated with receiving a loan guarantee. The historical default rate was not about 50%. I recall that the only company that defaulted on nuclear plants was Washington Public Power Service.

perdajz, I'd be interested to hear your thoughts.

The Cunctator said...

Apologies on the default rate canard -- that was the CBO's expected default rate for future loans, which didn't take into account carbon pricing. I hope you'll admit that the 30% reliability of wind is also a misleading canard. That's the reliability rate for a single turbine, not a wind farm or regional wind-power network.

David Bradish said...

No need to apologize. Let me rephrase my statement on wind. How about this? Nuclear plants generate 90 percent of their rated capacity whereas wind turbines generate only 30 percent of their rated capacity. Thus, if a wind farm were to generate the same amount of electricity as a nuclear plant in a year, then a wind farm would need to be three times a nuclear plant's capacity.